Monday, May 16, 2011
Landmark Law Would Make Social Networks Private By Default
A landmark law proposed in California would upend social networking sites' privacy policies by instituting new restrictions on what user information is shared and requiring sites to institute more stringent privacy settings.
Internet companies and trade associations have already opposed proposal "SB242," authored by Senator Ellen Corbett, arguing that it would have "unintended consequences," a negative effect on their business, and force users to make uninformed decisions about their privacy, by making them choose their privacy settings before ever using the social networking services.
The bill, which would apply only to users in California, would prohibit sites from displaying users' home addresses or telephone numbers without their consent and would mandate services remove of any information about a user within 48 hours of the request, or face a $10,000 fine.
Under the proposed law, social networking sites would be required to have all users choose their privacy settings--explained in "plain language"--as part of the registration process. It also spells out a privacy setting that would be mandated to serve as the default on all sites and that would prohibit "the display...of any information about a registered user, other than the user's name and city of residence, without the agreement of the user."
"You shouldn't have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say, 'Please don't share my personal information,'" Corbett said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Internet Alliance, a trade association that includes companies such as Google and Facebook, is among the groups that have expressed concerns and misgivings about the law.
SB242 "would force users to make decisions about privacy and visibility of all information well before they even used the service for the first time, and in such a manner that they are less likely to pay attention and process the information," Internet Alliance executive director Tammy Cota wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"This legislation is a serious threat both to Facebook's business in California and to meaningful California consumers' choices about use of personal data," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said of the proposed law, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "Any legislative or regulatory proposal must honor users' expectations in the contexts in which they use online services and promote the innovation that fuels the growth of the Internet economy."
Meanwhile, Corbett has accused the world's largest social networking website of operating in "stealth mode" to fight her proposal by offering "talking points" to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prior to the hearing, on why the bill should be opposed.